Queer Data Science: Viewing DC Pride Celebrations Through Taxi Ride Data

Eric Hughes, PhD

Taxi drop-offs during June 2017

Co-author Jaime Ravenet

Washington DC’s gay pride celebration, officially know as Capital Pride, is a family-friendly, city-wide celebration drawing hundreds of thousands of participants. In 2015, more than 150,000 people officially attended the parade and/or the festival at Capital Pride1, and unofficial attendance estimates of Pride 2014 put attendance totals over 250,0002. Official Capital Pride events start during the week before the parade, leading up to the massive parade and festival on Saturday and Sunday respectively. In this analysis we use publicly available taxi traffic data from June of 2017 to look at the spaces where pride is celebrated. This data hints at a more nuanced story about what we celebrate when we celebrate Pride than the official itinerary might suggest, based on where we celebrate Pride in DC. In fact, the data seems to point out that modern Pride celebrations still parallel the social dynamics that gave birth to the modern gay liberation movement.

Gay pride events today explicitly commemorate the Stonewall riots of June, 1969, when the patrons of the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan responded to a police raid by taking to the streets3. Police raids of queer spaces were common practice at the time. As hundreds of bar patrons were detained for congregating in a private queer space, a crowd of frustrated community members gathered outside, eventually marching through the streets, throwing rocks and bricks at police, setting buildings on fire, and demanding gay rights. They refused to disperse for days, shutting down Christopher Street for the entire weekend. Nobody had ever seen a public display of queer resistance like this in living memory and within two years of the riots there were gay rights organizations in every major American city, arranging parades that reenact this highly public demonstation of self-affirmation in defense of the right to congregate in private queer spaces.

The Data

The data we use in this analysis comes from Open Data DC4, which has records of location information for taxi trips in and around the District during Pride celebrations for the past few years, including pick-up and drop-off points. From this data, we can infer the general activity of people moving around in the DC metro area during June, and we can see how the taxi traffic changes during Pride weekend. 

In order to compare the relative activity of taxi rides across multiple geographic locations, we made a geospatial grid over the DC area, and then calculated the total number of pick-ups and drop-offs in each grid box. Gridding taxi ride data in this way gives ua a snapshot of commuting activity in specified geographic regions. Here, we compare the frequency of taxicab trips across time to get a broad understanding of typical taxi ride frequency across the DC area over a given timespan, e.g. a Saturday afternoon. 

The figure below is a heat map showing typical taxi drop-off locations on Saturday afternoons for June 2017.  This map represents an average of the total trips from the weekends before and after Pride 2017 (Saturday June 3, 2017, and Saturday June 17th, 2017, respectively).

Average Saturday taxi drop-offs between 12:00pm – 7:00pm

Observing the Parade

We can subtract the average Saturday afternoon ride data from the ride data on Pride weekend. This difference between the two demonstrates how travel in the DC area changes as a result of Pride events. In the first figure below, we see increased frequency in taxi destinations that maps to the parade route, specifically increased taxi traffic arriving along the southern boundary of the parade route in the early afternoon. 


Elevated traffic arriving at the parade on Saturday June 10th (12:00pm – 7:00pm)

We can also see increased taxi pickups in similar areas, but now surrounding the entire parade route, as the parade winds down. 

Elevated traffic leaving the parade on Saturday June 10th  (6:00pm – 9:00pm)

The data illustartes how taxi cab rides reflect the overall popularity of the pride parade, a largly public celebration of queer identites.  However the story about pride that this data tells doesn’t stop there. If you’ve ever been to DC pride, you’re probably aware that the parade, and other official events, are not the only places where pride is celebrated.   

Pride Nightlife

Taxi ride data can also be a source of information about the nightlife scene in the DC area in general. The following figure shows us the typical drop-off locations between 9 pm and 2 am on Friday June 2, 2017, and Friday June 16, 2017. This gives us an idea of what Friday nightlife traffic on non-Pride-event weekends in June 2017 looked like. 

Average Friday night taxi drop-offs in June (9:00pm – 2:00am)

In the next figure, we see how taxi traffic on the Friday of Pride weekend differs from the average Friday nightlife traffic. I’ve also highlighted the locations of several popular LGBTQ+ bars in the DC area. What we see is that gay bars located outside the main downtown area exhibit a significant localized spike in taxi traffic. Increased traffic is correlated to downtown bars as well, but not as strongly as bars in the city periphery. This is in contrast to Friday night taxi traffic from the weekends before and after Pride weekend, which show a fairly uniform map of drop-off locations that correlate with the general distribution of (both queer and non-queer) nightlife venues around DC.


Elevated taxi drop-offs on Friday June 9th (9:00pm – 2:00am)

The data shows that pride celebrations aren’t limited to the official public events.  Celebrations extend well into the night throughout queer spaces in DC area.  

DC’s pride celebration makes an explicitly public declaration that harkens back to the Stonewall riots in being about a public demonstration. The parade and festival are a public statement of one’s own identity. But the data also shows pride celebrations spread across smaller private queer spaces, demonstrating a symbiosis between the public and private spheres that we first see at Stonewall.

Sources

  1. http://www.washingtonblade.com/2015/06/14/more-than-150000-attend-capital-pride-parade
  2. https://www.washingtonblade.com/2014/06/09/weekend-pride-events-draw-thousands/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots
  4. http://opendata.dc.gov

 Cartography generated using the CartoDB web raster basemaps